Working remotely has left many of us craving human interaction, but imagine an extra feeling of loneliness with your colleagues living a plane ride away.
After spending nearly two years convening with static profile pictures from the safety of one’s bedroom, employees around the globe are beginning to see restrictions gradually ease, allowing companies to restore that sense of connectedness among their people. And in June 2022, NarraSoft’s Manila-based management team jumped at the chance to meet with their team members in Cebu face to face.
Flying hundreds of miles from Metro Manila, our managers from the BPO, digital art, and software departments took a week-long trip to the Visayan city to spend time with their fellow managers, developers, artists, and administrative professionals.
We asked them about their experience and whether it gave them the feeling of connection that was so wanting during the peak of the pandemic.
Making New Experiences, Fostering Stronger Bonds
Living miles away from the main office in Ortigas, NarraSoft’s Cebu-based employees said they “craved [personal] interaction” with workmates who lived up north in Luzon and in other cities and provinces within Visayas.
This feeling of distance was made all the more pronounced by the fact our employees there were hired only during the pandemic, which made meeting them face-to-face nearly impossible before.
To both Drex and Cammy, two of our leaders in Cebu, familiarity among employees is important on a personal and professional level. It allowed them to know the people they’re working with beyond first impressions, they said.
“You can give an impression already based on your profile pictures on Skype,” Drex, a manager of the software department, said. “[Meeting them would give] us another perspective of a person.”
Experiencing Firsts with NarraSoft
Our team in Manila flew out to Cebu on a company-sponsored trip. Once there, our employees spent their recreational time together snorkeling, island-hopping, banana boat-riding, eating at a buffet, and more. They also tried local cuisine like swaki and tuslob buwa and visited the Temple of Leah, a Roman-esque shrine known to have been built by the grandfather of a local celebrity in honor of his late wife.
“It’s my first time to be supported by the company in terms of getting together,” Drex said. “When NarraSoft told me that they’re going to visit Cebu, it was a privilege.”
Even our art manager Janielle said it was refreshing to work for a company that financially supported out-of-town trips to meet up with colleagues in faraway areas. “Masasabi ko na sobrang layo ng work environment, ng culture ni NarraSoft (All I can say is NarraSoft’s work environment and culture are miles different),” she said, recounting her experience with previous employers.
“Sa past experience ko, walang ganitong opportunity, kaya thankful ako kay Phil na may opportunity to fly out (In my experience, opportunities like this didn’t come by, so I’m thankful to Phil for the chance to fly out),” she added.
Karla, our Manila-based software manager, and Josh, our BPO manager, both said it was also their first time in Cebu and their first time to ride a plane. To be able to do this simply to visit their colleagues had been something unheard of ever since they started working.
“Initial impression is ano kaya ang first time to fly, pero pati sa employees, first time ko rin mag-visit (My initial thought was, ‘What’s it like to ride a plane for the first time?’ But then I wondered what it would be like to visit employees for the first time as well),” Josh said.
A Sense of Community: Bringing Employees Together Beyond their Professional Lives
Seeing fellow employees in person seems like a luxury nowadays. With businesses shifting to a hybrid or fully remote work setup, it’s difficult not to miss office camaraderie and that sense of community brought about by face-to-face interactions.
A recent survey even found 92% of workers said “friendships at work impact their willingness to stay at a company.” That workplace friendships influence employee retention is hardly surprising. One of Janielle’s goals for the Cebu visit is to build that foundation of closeness within her team.
“After ng trip na ‘yun, naka-build talaga ng relationship to the point na kung anu-ano na pinag-uusapan namin tapos very open na ngayon kapag may kailangan siya. (After that trip, we were able to build a bond so close that we reached a point where we talked about anything and everything; they were also very open about what they needed from me),” she said. “‘Yan ang target ko sa buong art team (That’s my target for the entire art team).”
Apart from creating stronger bonds, getting together with NarraSoft’s Cebu-based employees also helped improve their performance. One of the developers Karla manages was doing poorly at a project and wasn’t as responsive online. In person, however, the employee was chatty and engaging to talk to, Karla remarked. This particular employee’s performance was markedly better after the Manila team’s visit, so much so that the client they’re working with noticed the change.
Cammy, our training coordinator, had a similar experience. She said once she’d met up with them, employees had become less hesitant and intimated to ask for help with training modules. Similarly, Cammy felt more comfortable reaching out to employees and checking in on their progress.
Connectedness at work doesn’t leave an impact solely on the employees, though. During a regular check-in call with a client, Josh mentioned he was in Cebu to visit people in his team, including one directly working under said client.
“Ang impression niya sa NarraSoft is parang company-slash-family (Our client’s impression of NarraSoft is it’s a company-slash-family),” Josh said. The client even told our BPO manager that since they’re unable to look after the employee directly working for them, they can rest assured NarraSoft is doing so on their behalf.
Moving Forward: How to Maintain the Feeling of Connectedness
Asked whether this get-together is something they intend on doing again, our Cebu team said a plan was already in the works among those who lived there. As for the Manila team, they said they’ll be visiting again next year.
While making regular trips to far-off employees promotes closeness and connection, doing it often is impractical, especially by plane. Thankfully, there are ways to sustain newfound bonds remotely. Karla said simply turning on cameras during meetings, having personal conversations with colleagues, and openly appreciating team members’ great work can significantly contribute to long-term rapport.
Breaking the barrier in the first place, however, was necessary. Josh noted that through the small gesture of allowing them to visit Cebu-based employees, a gap seems to have closed.
While NarraSoft contributed to the logistics and expenses, this trip was only possible because of the good work its employees bring to the company. And seeing as they’ve maintained this even amid the pandemic, it’s only certain that more visits are on the horizon.